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Masterton’s career firefighters to walk off the job

Negotiations have fallen apart, and strike action will escalate with Masterton’s career firefighters committing to station walk-offs.

The action, which would see stations unstaffed for two hours over two days, would delay emergency response times, but firefighters say they had no choice.

Career firefighters at Masterton’s composite brigade said Fire and Emergency New Zealand [FENZ] had been unwilling to meet demands, and the strike action was going ahead as a last resort.

Firefighter and union secretary Tim Scott said no firefighter wanted it to get to this point.

“But we will be joining national stoppages next Friday [August 12]. We’ll be outside the Town Hall in Masterton, and if need be, the following Friday.”

The strikes would take place for two hours over two days. On August 19 and August 26, crews would withdraw from the station for one hour between 11am and noon.

The strike action would include all career fire stations, training centres, and 111 fire communication centres.

“It’s hard to predict what [emergency] might happen in that hour. We’re just hoping that nothing does,” Scott said.

“Masterton’s career staff won’t be turning out to an emergency in that time.

“It means the volunteers will be covering, but no one will be based at the station.”

Firefighter Garry Nielsen said FENZ did not adequately recognise the hazards of the job.

Masterton career firefighters from left; Garry Nielsen, Tim Scott, Chris Peterson and Laurie Matthews.

“It’s not just about pay, it’s recognition we want. The gear we use does not protect us from the carcinogens and the chemicals in the smoke that get into our skin.”

The World Health Organisation recently classified firefighting a Group 1A carcinogenic to humans – the highest rating for carcinogenic status.

Masterton’s officers said it was common to smell smoke coming off their skin days after attending structure fires.

Firefighters around New Zealand had reported working 100-hour weeks, driving unsafe vehicles, and handling equipment that was failing.

New Zealand Professional Fire Fighters Union [NZPFU] national secretary Wattie Watson said FENZ was offering health coverage to non-union staff but not unionised staff, and firefighters were feeling under-appreciated.

“I think it’s a philosophical position that they [FENZ] are in, and they do not want to admit it.

“The disrespect is anti-union.

“FENZ says we’re impeding their right to manage, but they don’t have a right to manage fire services into the ground. “They don’t have a right to manage health and safety management at the expense of our members.”

Watson said FENZ was warned strike action was a possibility, but a last-minute offer did not address the union’s concerns.

“Five minutes before the deadline on the decision, they sent through a new offer, but there was nothing new.”

FENZ deputy national commander Brendan Nally said the union seemed unwilling to provide a counter position.

“Fire and Emergency has demonstrated it is fully committed to trying to reach a settlement with the union.

“After over 13 months of negotiations, involving 29 days of bargaining and three days of mediation, the union has not significantly moved from its original position.”

Nally said he was disappointed the offer put forwards on Thursday was not accepted, and action would escalate.

“Our new offer is substantially more than our previous offer and reflects our strong desire to reach a settlement.

Minister of Internal Affairs Jan Tinetti said the government was aware of the industrial action and had asked FENZ to ensure a contingency plan.

“I know public safety will be their top priority.

“The Government has huge respect for the work firefighters, and everybody else in Fire and Emergency does to keep the public and property safe. It is critically important that we have an effective fire service.”

Tinetti said she had heard from firefighters that they had significant welfare concerns that needed to be addressed and was working with FENZ and NZPFU to reach a settlement.

She said FENZ was an independent crown entity, with 97 per cent of funding coming from insurance levies.

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George Shiers
George Shiers
George Shiers is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age interested in politics and social issues. He reports regularly on a range of topics including infrastructure, housing, and transport. George is also the Tararua reporter and helps cover police, fire and court stories.

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